With so much talk about the “war on Christmas,” it may seem strange that there are Christians who are glad for the holiday to be demoted to the ranks of St. Patrick’s Day, but for one of the three main groups of Christians I encounter here, Christmas remains relatively unimportant.
These 3 prominent denominations (keeping in mind that India is only 2% Christian) are:
1. GDM churches
3. Kerala Pentecostals
Most of the churches in our area are members of the GDM (Godavari Delta Mission) group, which seems to be a sort of evangelical-based denomination: “Each individual church is self governing, but commits itself to working together with other churches in the movement for the purpose of, mutual support and the spread of the gospel in and around the Godavari Districts.” They have no problem with Christmas, and put on huge functions like this:
I have not been to a Catholic church in our area yet, but three of our on-campus teachers come from that background, so I’ve learned a lot from them. They also enjoy big Christmas festivals and give each other gifts of new clothes and treats (the bangles above are from one of these ladies).
The interesting group, in this regard, are the Pentecostals from Kerala, a south Indian state with a long history of Christianity (St. Thomas the Apostle is rumored to have brought the gospel to India in the 1st century). I mentioned in a previous post that this group does not wear gold jewelry, much to the chagrin of their neighbors who “wear their bank accounts on their arms,” but before I present their side of this issue and potentially paint them in a bad light, I want to state that the men and women of this denomination are the most sincere Christians I have met here, even if their traditions don’t coincide with those of the West.
Basically, their claim is that since we know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th (the argument that shepherds would not be outside in the middle of winter was brought up here), there is no reason to participate in the heathenized holiday. The same goes for Easter, apparently, although I wasn’t told exactly why yet. I speculate that this stance is a reaction to the grand festivals of the Hindus, which seem to take place every month and leave the marketplace perpetually decorated with lights and streamers. Furthermore, since even they now acknowledge Christmas, with some attending the above function, the holiday has lost its meaning.
After attending the 4 hour service on Christmas night (which I spoke and sang at as well), I can see some of their point: the banquet and pounding music resemble many of the weddings I’ve seen, and Hindus seemed happy to call Jesus “the most beloved of all gods for the moment” (Maharaj, The Death of a Guru). However, I am not willing to give up on the holiday quite yet. Yes, it has a irreligious background and a consumerist present (I actually thought Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweet of “A Pagan holiday (BC) becomes a Religious holiday (AD). Which then becomes a Shopping holiday (USA)” was pretty funny), but when approached appropriately, it is a good reminder of the humanity of Christ and God’s plan of redemption for us all.
I hope you all had a wonderful time with your families; I am very grateful for the technology that allowed me to see mine. Blessings during this new year.